I have the inside running on a hot tip for the upcoming Melbourne Cup.
In a word: don’t.
When distilled to its essence, the Melbourne Cup and the surrounding carnival is little more than an infomercial that puts the Sham Wow guy to shame. The entire extravaganza consists of hours of droning coverage, minus actually covering anything. The most important factor – always the case – is money, and the telecast’s time share proves the point. Approximately an hour long void exists between races. This void is filled with a long boring speech from the sponsor of the previous race; paid promotions from several betting agencies and alcohol makers; self promotion of the network, and a few actual undisguised ads. When finally we get to the sport – assuming you can call it that – it is but a flamboyantly dressed circus midget sitting atop a circling beast: hardly a contest of athleticism or skill. Nor riveting viewing for that matter.
Supporters of the event fall into one or more of the following categories, but as we will see, all are of dubious merit.
The main draw card for many seems to be the horses themselves: beautiful, majestic animals in peak physical condition. True horse enthusiasts however see an animal trained to within an inch of its life and know a fall will only result in a beautiful, majestic equine corpse. Thoroughbred horses are so highly strung that heart attacks, seizures, and broken spines can occur mid stride. The vast majority of these tragedies conveniently occur in training, so the public can remain blissfully ignorant. Such rarities aside, the best case scenario is as inadequately follows; an innocent animal is sat upon and repeatedly whipped for a few minutes; straps connected to a contraption in its mouth wrench the animal’s head back and sideways as it gasps for air with a protruding tongue. All of this takes place while the poor beast fights for space in the pursuit of a goal of which it isn’t even aware. The cruelty is so obvious, it is astonishing that is has to be explicitly acknowledged.
If ‘loving animals’ is your justification for tuning in, it is time to re-evaluate the moral implications of your support.
Parallels are often drawn with professional athletes, but there exists a very important distinction: the sports person has the choice over their career, whereas the horse has no say in the matter. The extension of this point is that the human equivalent receives the spoils of their efforts, which is what makes their choice viable. Take away the money, fame, or simply the pride derived from success – all human concepts – and the influential factors driving their decision are lost.
You would be excused for thinking national coverage of the richest race on the calendar would be a godsend for the racing fan. The reality is very different. Racing devotees are left dismayed by the poor coverage which almost exclusively ignores the pivotal, technical aspects of the sport.
If this is you, you already know what I’m talking about.
For the best part of the year, alcohol is seen as a socially destructive habit; a mind altering drug; an addictive physical and mental health hazard; a waste of copious amounts of money. And next to cigarettes, the biggest killer outside of natural causes. The threat is so immense the government sponsors continual public health warnings on all forms of media. Enter the Spring Carnival and these messages succumb to overwhelming competition from advertisers. It is the one event left on our calendar where promoting drinking to the level of being a sport in its own right remains acceptable. It’s not only in the ads; but smuggled into the commentary, the sponsors, and even the puff pieces that fill the air time between races. Given the inherently counter-productive conflict between the taxpayer funded health warnings and these promotions, it’s a wonder alcohol advertising isn’t banned entirely – let alone allowed to be pushed to these extremes – as is the case with tobacco.
Given the similarities, cigarettes make an excellent case study for how we should treat these kinds of negative influences. There is no need for prohibition. The system should simply restrict the marketing companies’ ability to seduce their quarry and thereby eliminate profiteering by damaging the lives of innocent people. The public retains the choice, but without the enticements. The reduction in usage figures are plain to see, and this can only be to the betterment of society.
See drinkers (Verbatim – minus the ‘biggest killer’ line, although it too destroys many lives. And yes, gambling can also be viewed as a drug. The natural high created by the risk and reward mechanisms in the brain when gambling is chemically equivalent to that of drugs.)
During last year’s coverage, the broadcasters found a novel solution to the conflict of interest between gambling promotions and public health warnings. To appease their sponsors and prevent their glamorous image being sullied by something as undesirable as reality, they simply omitted the warnings.
The solitary announcement aired at the conclusion of the final race. Apparently this is what passes for ‘responsibility’ despite the fact that Cup Day is the most prominent and profitable gambling day of the year, and serves as most people’s introduction to the gambling industry.
The fashion industry, led by gay men, places women men don’t find overly attractive on a pedestal as the sexual ideal – many of them under age – and dresses them in ridiculous outfits nobody would ever be caught dead wearing in public, and couldn’t afford even if they so desired. If anyone can explain any part of that, I’ll buy them a house.
If fashion is ever the basis of your argument, it’s time to stop making arguments.
The ‘stars’ attract viewers. It is hard to see why; given most are barely C-grade celebrities. If you really want to watch alleged actors from Home and Away tarted up like – well – tarts, you need only watch the show itself. Record it if you must. The few genuine celebrities that make an appearance do so begrudgingly, offering just enough time to take their appearance fee and run.
Are we so shallow and insecure that we need to cling onto other’s fame? I fear the answer to that question may be depressing.
So why do we care?
The explanation lies in the Melbourne Cup’s subtitle, ‘The Race That Stops the Nation‘. Plain and simple, the venerable Aussie slacker is catered to with his most sought after reward: a paid day off. And being held on a Tuesday, people often manage to skip another day and obtain a full four-day weekend. The public holiday makes it an occasion, and with endless promotion of the most seductive and destructive aspects of Australian culture, combine to create a positive feedback loop that ensures breathtaking profits and community support year after year.
On the other hand, we could implement an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ strategy.
Imagine we adopted the same approach with Formula One. Non-stop drinking and gambling, celebrities and fashion. There isn’t much to imagine because the key factors are already present. Every sporting event has some drinking and gambling. Swathes of genuine A-grade celebrities flock to the F1 paddock for the event itself, not to cash in or fulfil a contract. Even the fashion is superior, in that the visuals cater to the viewers’ desires. However, these aren’t shoved down our throats in a tacky display of shameless self promotion. The only things the F1 lacks are the marketing and the long weekend. Oh, and the cruelty to animals, but we could keep the whips, they might compliment the grid girls’ outfits. Given the same level of support, F1 could be praised by the locals instead of derided as a tax burden by those too ignorant to recognise the benefits of hosting a global spectacle.
We could go full scale with sporting public holidays to back up our claims of being ‘The Sporting Capital of the World’. If forced to trade, who would really miss Labour day, or the Queen’s birthday (which isn’t even her birthday), the compensatory holidays that no longer represent the cause, or half of the religious holidays? Boxing day already provides a day off for the biggest cricket match of the year, and there is AFL on ANZAC day, but we could expand the franchise to include Bathurst, the MotoGP, the Australian Open, and of course the AFL Grand Final.
Imagine a long weekend for the AFL Grand Final providing all fans with the opportunity to attend the Grand Final Parade. (UPDATE: This has actually happened. I think they’re watching me.) Cheerleaders or some other excuse to insert eye candy. It already has the alcohol and gambling to some degree.
However, other sports don’t receive horse racing’s free pass. We don’t get a day off. Objectification is vilified. Gambling promotion is becoming socially unacceptable and is undergoing a process of gradual reduction. Even alcohol is often restricted to low-strength variants.
Irrespective of your stance on the social matters one thing is obvious: the Spring Carnival is the massive beneficiary of several double standards. Double standards only endorsed by your enthusiastic, uncritical support.